Portadown has experienced a profound loss with the death of dedicated cross-community worker and devoted family woman, Yvonne Sterritt, who has passed away at the age of 57.
She died in hospital on Monday, surrounded by her family, after a long illness. Her reactions to her health problems were typical – never complaining and with nothing but the highest praise for the staff of Craigavon Area Hospital, who cared for her with expertise, compassion and total dedication.
Yvonne was simply unique, a shining example of non-sectarianism in practice, living a life of selflessness, and fearlessly showing how an ordered society, respecting law and order, must operate.
Her family at Ballyoran Park – where she spent her entire married life – is shattered by her passing. In her final weeks she enjoyed two family occasions. The first was when the four generations hired a bus to take her on a trip to the Mournes, a day out which she talked about until the end.
The second was the recent christening of her youngest grandchild, Ellie. The family arranged the event so that granny Yvonne could attend, and that, too, was a cherished memory for a woman whose life ended all too young.
Four generations survive her, including her father Bobby Walker – her mother Marie died just last year.
She also leaves husband John, daughter Elaine and sons Jonathan and David, grandchildren Amy-Leigh, Caleb, Sean, Bobby and Ellie. There are four siblings, Deirdre, Catherine, Robert and Desmond.
She was born Yvonne Walker in the Obins Street area of town, and perhaps her unique character was fashioned with her rather unusual childhood. Her father was caretaker of the Langford Airbase in Crumlin and she spent her childhood there, going to St James Primary School in the County Antrim village.
After that, she was a boarder at St Michael’s in Lurgan, and enjoyed being closer to her home town, with extended family in Portadown. She returned to town permanently, working as a receptionist at the Seagoe Hotel, which was run by John Toner – he moved on to hotels like the Europa and Slieve Donard, so the young Yvonne had a solid grounding in the profession.
She also worked for a while as a telephonist at the Portadown Exchange at Carrickblacker Road, and this was to change her life. Two of her workmates (Jeanette and Vivienne) were the sisters of John Sterritt, and she met her future husband through them. They were married at St John’s Roman Catholic Church.
They spent their entire married life at 357 Ballyoran Park, with Yvonne helping through various part-time jobs, and concentrating her considerable energies on bringing up the family and simply making Portadown a better place to live in.
In the Ballyoran context, she was chair of the community association, and strained every emotion to reach out to the entire town. She was also deeply involved in the campaign to save Drumcree College from closure, for she recognised the benefit of local education.
She had, a fellow community worker said, a heart of gold, and it was her selfless attitude to life that enabled her to become a conduit to all communities in town. She was a visionary that everyone needed law and order, and to this degree she served on the various policing bodies, an ethos that the PSNI respected, but recognised that Yvonne fearlessly spoke her mind to all parties.
There was widespread sadness when it emerged that she was suffering from ill-health, and the family has praised her courage when she realised things were terminal.
Daughter Elaine said – “People came to her with all sorts of problems and she had a direct line to authorities like health, the council and the police to get things sorted.”
There are hundreds of sympathy messages on Elaine’s facebook page. Under a picture of Yvonne and Elaine, facebook friend Rachel Hall writes – “So sorry for your loss Elaine, thoughts and prayers are with you and your family. She was a great woman!”
The large funeral was yesterday (Wednesday) to St John’s where Requiem Mass was conducted by Fr Sheehan and Deacon Martin Barlow. Burial was in the adjoining cemetery.